Eighth Precinct Police Station

4150 West Grand River at Martin Luther King

The former farm owned by William Woodbridge extended along Trumbull west of that street's intersection with the street then known as Myrtle, but now called Martin Luther King.  The farm land was developed into a residential area after about 1885.  As the population grew, it was necessary to build a police station to serve the residents of this new upper middle neighborhood.

What do you think municipal buildings should look like?  What message should they convey?  Today, most people would likely favor simple functional structures that clearly indicate that the mayor and city bureaucrats carefully guarded the rate payers' wallet.  An architect who came before today's city administrators with a structure inspired by Julius Kahn's magnificent national capitol buildings in Dacca, or by the Cathedral at Chartres or by the striking Hassan II Mosque that Michael Pineau designed for Casablanca's Atlantic shore would not be taken seriously.  When Detroit was an economically booming and rapidly growing city in the decades just before the flourishing of the vehicle industry, local officials paid great attention to the message conveyed by civic buildings.  Think of the elegant style of the baroque Wayne County Court House designed by John Scott or the sylvan nature of the shingle style police station built to serve Belle Isle in 1893, a building that resembles a Norman chateau.

For this  Woodbridge neighborhood police station, city officials selected one of Detroit's most productive and ingenious architects, Louis Kamper, whose now restored Book-Cadillac Hotel may be his greatest design.  You might think that the Detroit's city fathers in the last decade of the Nineteenth Century would not lean toward the castles of the Rhine or the Loire as a model for a neighborhood police house.  But they did, and Louis Kamper executed such a design exceptionally competently.  There are two distinct two-story buildings here with a one-story arcade linking them.  In each building, a limestone-faced first floor with parapet walls supports a second story faced in brick.  The larger building was the police station.  It is impressive.  You notice a triple arched entrance between two large conical towers.  In 1901, when this building opened, I presume that the police often rode horses to quickly reach the scene of an incident.  I assume the smaller building served as a stable and storage area in the early years, and then as a garage when the police switched to motor vehicles.  The smaller building also is graced with two appealing conical towers, but one is quite small.  Kamper designed this chateauesque police station shortly after he designed the castle-like Colonel Hecker Home at Woodward and East Ferry.

I wonder if the city's administrators were trying to convey the majesty of city government with this elegant design, or did they think a castle-like building would let people know about the power and force of the city's police officers?  In the 1950s, I believe, the police department ceased to use the building as a regular station.  It became the home for the youth division of the police department in the 1960s, but then later, the city removed their offices from this structure.  By the first decade of the 21st century, the architectural integrity of the building was restored and it was home to a firm that specializes in restoring classic Detroit buildings for residential and commercial use.  This building is within the twice expanded Woodbridge Neighborhood Historic District.

Date of Construction: 1901
Architect: Louis Kemper
City of Detroit Local Historic District: Not listed
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Sites: Listed November 15, 1973
State of Michigan Historical Marker: None erected
National Registry of Historic Sites: Listed: December 31, 1974
Use in 2009: This beautiful former police station now, I believe, provides office space for The Phoenix Group, a local firm that specializes in the redevelopment of historic building in Detroit for commercial and residential purposes.
Website for The Phoenix Group: http://www.phoenixdevgrp.com/
Photo: Ren Farley; June, 2004
Description prepared: February 10, 2009

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